There’s also the question of Scott’s dance with the teachers’ unions. Insiders doubt that Scott’s push for a pay raise for teachers will help him siphon off much support from the reliably Democratic teachers’ unions, but his staff seems to think it could help him come across as more compassionate.
State GOP leaders aren’t as eager to placate the unions. The House just passed a parent-trigger law, which the Senate will probably vote on within two weeks. It would allow parents with kids in chronically troubled schools to vote on how to restructure the neighborhood school. The Senate canned a parent-trigger law during its last session, but the body is more conservative now than it was last year, and the bill’s proponents are optimistic about its prospects. If it passes, all eyes will turn to Scott.
And by “all eyes,” I mean all. The bill is anathema to teachers’ unions, and school reformers see it as an important step in loosening the unions’ grip on state politics. So Scott has an unpleasant dilemma. He can sign the bill, bunker down for the inevitable shellacking from the left, and potentially emerge with burnished conservative bona fides. Alternately, in hopes of snagging a few votes away from Charlie Crist, he can break with his base for the second time in as many months and try to endear himself to a group that’s fiercely loyal to the Left.
No doubt, from education to Medicaid, Scott faces challenges. His allies say he’s simply navigating a difficult period and trying his best to boost the party while still preserving his reelection chances in often-purple Florida. They also believe that his economic record will eventually trump any political disagreements with conservatives and tea-party types.
A pressing question, however, is whether Scott has anything to worry about besides the impending Crist challenge. If a competitive primary challenger arises, Scott could be in trouble — or not. It’s hard to predict. And if he writes his campaign fund a check for $100 million, which isn’t outside the realm of possibility, then potential challengers might give him a pass. “All of the primary talk is nonsense, since Scott hasn’t burned that many bridges and he has more money than anybody else in state politics,” says a Florida campaign consultant. “If you’re a rising Republican, it’s doesn’t seem like a ripe opportunity.”
Nevertheless, Adam Putnam, the agriculture commissioner, is rumored to be considering a run. He’s just focusing on his work, he insists. When asked if he has ruled out a challenge, he reiterates that he’s focused on being agriculture commissioner. Other conservatives say that Jeff Atwater, the state’s chief financial officer, is being encouraged to run, too. And a handful of state legislators hope former congressman Allen West will challenge Scott in a primary, as his national fundraising base and name recognition would give him an advantage the other potential contenders lack.
He hasn’t closed the door on the idea. “It’s kind of making people question, ‘Really, where is your backbone?’” West said last month, criticizing Scott’s green light for the Medicaid expansion “Me, I would not have gone for that Medicaid expansion. And according to the Supreme Court decision, it was not something you were mandated to do.”
One thing is for sure: Scott has a lot of work to do. “There’s some fence-mending that needs to take place — I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” says Slade O’Brien, the Florida director of Americans for Prosperity, who works with numerous tea-party leaders across the state. “But I would also say that the alternative right now [Charlie Crist as governor] is one that sends shivers up the spines of Republicans in the state. And that may play to the governor’s advantage.”
— Betsy Woodruff is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.